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Thai referendum result reflects global backlash: Ex-Prime Minister

Thai voters' endorsement of army rule reflects a global backlash against the political establishment that can be seen in the U.K. and the U.S., one of the country's last non-military prime ministers told CNBC on Monday.

The Thai electorate approved a military-backed constitution in a referendum on Sunday that was the first major test of the junta's popularity since it took power in a coup in 2014.

The referendum was seen as a way to pave the way for democratic elections to return, but not until late 2017.

Ex-Prime Minister and current leader of the Democrat Party Abhisit Vejjajiva told CNBC that Thai voters' support for military rule was part of a trend of disenchantment with traditional politics.

The U.K. people's vote to leave the European Union in June has been interpreted as a vote against establishment British politicians, who largely campaigned to remain in the bloc.

Similarly, the popularity of U.S. Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has been seen as a sign of U.S. voters' disenchantment with the Washington status quo.


"I think a lot of countries are going through an exceptional period in terms of democracy," Vejjajiva, who led Thailand between 2008 and 2011, told CNBC.

"There has been a strong reaction against the political establishment from the United States to the United Kingdom, we have seen already, and also in Thailand.

"But here in Thailand of course, it comes at a time when there has been chaos on the streets and the military had to step into restore orders. So it is not surprising to me that anti-political establishment feeling is now being channeled to support outsiders to take care of some of the aspects of our politics," he added.

The constitution approved on Sunday sets the scene for a national election. However it is unclear if political parties will be able to freely campaign for election.

Vejjajiva remains leader of the Democrat Party and suggested on Monday that he would run in the next election.

"I'm still the party leader and I hope to come up with a platform that will respond to people's needs," he told CNBC.

"I think people voted yesterday for moving ahead towards elections, for certainty, stability and order and we have to respect that. But political parties now have to adapt themselves and respond to that and at the same time not lose site of the issues that really matter to voters, which include the economy, poverty, indebtedness, avoiding the conflicts of the past, fighting corruption and putting some key reforms in place."

A Thai woman casts her ballot with her child at a polling station in Bangkok on August 7, 2016.
Borja Sanchez-Trillo | AFP | Getty Images
A Thai woman casts her ballot with her child at a polling station in Bangkok on August 7, 2016.

Vejjajiva outlined his views for boosting the Thai economy, which is seen growing by 2.5 percent in 2016 by the World Bank.

"What I think we have seen in recent years is that we can only be strong if we help the weakest. Which means that for rural farmers, for people who are still in debt, they need to have the opportunities and the income, otherwise there will not be a strong enough domestic economy for everybody else," he told CNBC.

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